“Your daughter has schizophrenia,” the psychiatrist said — paranoid schizophrenia.”
“Oh no! Anything but that,” my friend whispered. “Couldn’t she have contracted a heart problem or even leukemia or … ?” she said in a choking kind of voice.
“But heart disease and leukemia can be fatal,” the psychiatrist said with a shocked expression on his face. Yes, my friend had heard that schizophrenia was far more treatable, but … but …?
When she told me what had happened I understood. I knew that heart disease and leukemia did not carry a stigma and that was her problem. She was ashamed of feeling that way, but it was a fact.
A diagnosis of schizophrenia is devastating for most families and patients alike. I know because I have been there. At first, I believed that there was hope. Then I believed that there was a bit less hope and then I understood that we’d received a death sentence because our son proved to be medication-resistant. I imagined his descent into psychosis as well as the accompanying stigma. In time, we learned to speak out about schizophrenia in our family and even reached the ‘coping stage,’ but it was a long, hard road for us all.
Of course, many of the people with schizophrenia take medication to stabilize their conditions and are then able to work and have a social life. Nowadays, I spend my time trying to persuade families to speak out about the stigma associated with mental illness.